All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Heather McPherson

Advisory Committee Members

Cathleen Cummings

Lucy Curzon

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences


This thesis examines three visionary women who were instrumental in founding the Museum of Modern Art in 1929: Lillie P. Bliss, Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, and Mrs. Cornelius Sullivan. In reaction to the lack of modern art in New York City’s museums, these women combined their collections, money, and resources to present Matisses, Picassos, and other modern masters to create what would become the core of the museum’s permanent collection. Both challenging and accepting the limitations of gender, the women enlisted the help of A. Conger Goodyear and Alfred Barr to help them navigate the art world whilst they built and insured the future of what would become one of the world’s leading repositories of modern art. Over the past eighty years, MoMA has seen a fair amount of controversy. The founders pushed for the inclusion of photography, film, and architecture, and were scorned for celebrating “middlebrow” art. Present day MoMA continues to face criticism for its ongoing physical expansion and pop culture retrospectives. This thesis will address these issues and evaluate the museum’s adherence to its founding mission of educating the public on modern, often radical art. It will approach the early history of MoMA from a perspective of gender studies, which serves as a corrective to museum studies which often overlooks the role of gender norms in the history of art collecting and display. With this thesis, I hope to mitigate the exclusion of “the Ladies” from contemporary histories.



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